My unexpected journey in fashion began in Richmond, Virginia, where I grew up a complete tomboy, loving sports and imitating my big brother, Chris.  In high school, I played soccer, lacrosse and basketball and was comfortable in my athletic, tall body. After doing sports ads for a local agency, I was plucked out of a normal teenage existence to do the Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue, which was shooting in Virginia. Suddenly I was associated with a big New York modeling agency and found myself on the cover of Italian Vogue aged just 15. Life changed drastically. I finished high school and moved to New York City. Then began an education of a different sort.

“Navigating the fashion world on my own presented many challenges, especially at the tender time in life when a young woman is growing into adulthood and, hopefully, developing positive self esteem.”

Navigating the fashion world on my own presented many challenges, especially at the tender time in life when a young woman is growing into adulthood and, hopefully, developing positive self esteem. Though outwardly successful, I began noticing that I was usually slightly bigger than the other models. I had broad, muscular shoulders and was not the stick thin “ideal” model seen in magazines and ads. Sometimes a potential client would tell my agent that I was too ”healthy looking” for the job. French designers rolled their eyes when they found I did not fit into their size 2 samples. I began to feel the pressure to be smaller, thinner. But how could a girl who was almost 6 feet tall be a size 2? I also saw this degrading process happen to some of my model friends – some of the most famous and admired female models were berated for their size.

“I began to feel the pressure to be smaller, thinner.  But how could a girl who was almost 6 feet tall be a size 2?”

I first thought that will power, diet and exercise would solve the problem. This became a vicious cycle that never allowed me to relax and enjoy being with my friends without worrying about looking perfect for the next client. When I was thin enough, I felt miserable and untrue to myself. My physical and emotional health deteriorated.

In my early twenties, with the counsel and support of my family, I decided it was time  to step away from modeling. I moved to California, got my college degree and, in the process, regained my confidence and perspective. During that time, I realized that often the fashion industry conveys an unrealistic, and often false, image of models and celebrities. Airbrushing and digital enhancing produce fake images, which adds to the unrealistic pictures that young women then adopt as the ideal body that they need to emulate. This can lead to frustration,  poor self image and even eating disorders.

“Why must there be one ideal body shape when there is such a wonderful variety in size and shape of the female body?”

Why must there be one ideal body shape when there is such a wonderful variety in size and shape of the female body? Who is to say that one body build is more attractive than another? No one, not even the fashion industry, should have the power to impose artificial standards and steal our confidence as uniquely created women.

My 14- year career as a model in the fashion industry has taken me all over the world, onto runways in New York, Milan and Paris. It has also led me on a journey to self-acceptance and opened my eyes to the struggle that many women have with body image. Today I am back in the fashion world and I have a much healthier perspective. My clients know when I walk through the door who I am and what to expect. I’ve been an outspoken proponent for healthy body image for all women and — I’ve have even appeared on The Ellen Degeneres Show and on Oprah to talk about these issues. I have learned that comparing yourself with others is a waste of time. As a model young or seasoned, I have found that it is best to embrace your own unique body type to be the best you can be.

“Cutting the runway sample size bigger would allow designers to look at models more individually…”

There have been many ideas thrown around as to how to address this problem. I believe that models can start by refusing to go to extremes to conform to industry standards. If you are ruining your health and body it is important for agencies to have health professionals on hand to assist and educate young girls so they are not left without professional resources. Second, cutting the runway sample size bigger would allow designers to look at models more individually, taking into consideration their unique body types and various heights, and tailor the clothes to their measurements. Not all models are built exactly the same, and I believe the first positive step in the right direction is to be honest and talk about it.

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